You can curl up on the couch together and watch a movie.
You can lie down on pillows or a bed and just hold each other.
You can lean on each other while you talk.
You can spoon, you can hug face to face, you can sit nested and sing together or read together.
It can be about human connection, it can be about deep affection and love, it can be about comfort, it can be about fun.
But to keep it safe and sweet, and to help you not slide into the dominant cultural narrative that says that All Touch Is Eventually About Sex Anyway Obviously, you might need some support:
It helps to set expectations and boundaries ahead of time, and communicate clearly. In fact, this can also be good practice for other situations, both sexual and nonsexual.
These are my suggestions.
Your mileage (kilometereage?) may vary.
Tweak at will. This is the beginning of a conversation, it doesn’t have to be set in stone.
Think it through.
- This is for pleasure. If we’re not both here to enjoy ourselves, what are we doing?
- We are both capable of consent. (There are places and times where this is not actually needed, like if your drunk friend wants to fall asleep on your shoulder. But I’m talking here about intentional cuddling situations, where you’re setting up a cuddle date.)
- Consent may be altered or withdrawn at any time, no harm no foul. It cannot be retroactively withdrawn. (You can say, “I don’t want you to touch my shoulders anymore.” You can’t say, “I said before that I was okay with having my shoulders touched, but now I wish I hadn’t and it’s your fault that you touched them anyway.”)
- If you have people in your life with whom you need to negotiate so you can do this without breaking your agreements, do so in advance.
- This is not about or for sex. We are agreeing not to have sexual contact. (Again this is for a true cuddle date. Want to see if it goes further? Change this rule, but whatever you decide, be explicit and tell them ahead of time. You’re a sovereign being, AND they should get to decide if they want to play by the rules you want to play by.)
- Sexual starts with kissing. No kissing, no fondling. Caressing is fine, but not on parts of my body that I feel are sexual, and if something isn’t obvious I will let you know.
- If you get turned on because we’re holding each other, your turn-on is yours to manage in a gracious way. That is, without asking the other person to be sexual with you or being sexual in their presence. Concretely, for example: if you have a penis and it becomes erect, gently move so it’s not pressing into my body and make a request to change what we’re doing so it doesn’t get stimulated further. Your erection is not my problem. You are in collaboration to maintain your agreed-upon boundaries.
- There’s a difference between sensual and sexual. Sensuality is delightful and important. Most people don’t even think about this line. It’s actually very important.
- Clothes stay on. (Unless you’re both super comfortable with being naked and nonsexual, or unless you negotiate something else.)
- Clothes are not revealing or sexy: think cute flannel, not lingerie.
- Touch is restricted to not-usually-considered-sexual parts of the body. Off limits for me: breasts, nipples, genitals. Your list may vary. Your cuddle buddy’s list may vary. Talk about it.
- Set a time limit if you want to make sure you have an easy exit strategy. Set a timer. Do what you need to to make it a container until you’re comfortable.
- Don’t take “no” personally. If you hear no, accept it graciously and go to things you both want to do. If you are not good at taking no with grace, practice. If you need help with practice, I can coach you.
- Keep talking. Communicate clearly. Take the risk to be vulnerable about what you want, what you don’t want, and how to find the win-win. Only say yes when you mean yes. Only say no when you mean no. Remember you can change your mind.
- Enjoy yourselves. See #1
Further advice: being cagey about what you want will not cut it. Our cultural scripts leave too much room for error, and when you don’t say, then people guess. Based on the scripts.
If you want to include kissing as acceptable, say so. If you want to make sure the person you’re with knows your elbow is an erogenous zone and they should avoid it, say so. Say it. Just say it. Start with, “I know this is kind of awkward but…” or “I don’t want to give you the wrong idea but…” or “I’m going to be explicit about something that most people aren’t but…” Or take a page from Reid Mihalko
and his Awkward Conversation Formula and say, “I’m afraid to tell you this, because I’m concerned that you’re going to (think/do/say)… but I feel like I need to tell you anyway. I’m really hoping you’ll… after you hear me out.” Talk about the insulin injector that you wear or the pacemaker or your back injury or how you love it when people tuck their heads on your shoulder. Say it.
So how does this look in real life? What if you want to cuddle with someone you usually watch movies with anyway? Use these as guidelines to have a conversation about it:
“Hey, I was wondering if you’d like to platonically cuddle while we watch Terminator 4 tonight?”
“Platonic cuddles, what’s that?”
“Well, we’d lie on a big pile of floor pillows with some blankets, with our clothes on, and hug and touch gently, but not trying to get turned on, just because touching another human is nice. Like a really long hug.”
“What if we get turned on?”
“We just agree not to do anything with the turn on.”
“Not do anything?”
“Yeah, so like, if I get turned on I won’t start touching you sexually or kissing you or anything, I’ll just know I’m feeling that.”
“And what if I don’t want to do something you’re doing?”
“Then you just say so and I stop. And if you want to do something we just talk about it.”
“OK that sounds kind of awesome. Weird, but awesome. Let me text my sweetie and see if we need to talk more before I do this. We’ve never really talked about it but she’s really affectionate with her family and friends, and she likes you, so it’s probably fine….[typetype] She says it’s cool, but no hands under clothes.”
“Wasn’t planning that anyway, but it’s nice to have that clarity from her. Awesome, let’s get the throw pillows.”
If you like this idea, and you want to see how people you know might respond, here’s the post I made on Facebook:
Okay folks, I would like to make this abundantly clear: I like to cuddle. That’s platonic, bodies touching, clothes on (off is a different conversation), makes you drowsy and floppy cuddle. If we are friends, and you would like to cuddle, please feel free to ask me for a cuddle date, or ask for cuddles when we are already hanging out (if you have partners who need to be negotiated with, please take care of that first).
I am committed to promoting platonic cuddles where they are wanted. I am tweaking my living room because more cuddles are good.
And if I don’t want to, I will tell you that. Obviously no means no. But I will not be mad at you for asking.
…and a particularly wise friend and experienced cuddler, Brian Buchbinder, commented:
Some might think of it as “just” cuddling, as if that were a limitation. Really, though, whether it’s cuddling or kissing, setting a clear boundary about what’s going on means you can play as all-in as possible. When there is a tension about intent, the power of the interaction is limited. Funny about how setting limits allows for unlimited participation and connection.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
I invite you to take the words from my Facebook post, tweak them, and make your own invitation. See what you get. 🙂 The world changes by changing its parts, and we are its parts.
I’ve had a dilemma for several years now.
I love growing food. I love the magic of start-with-nothing, end-with-nourishment. I love growing green things, I love having my hands and feet in the dirt. I do not wear gardening gloves, and I don’t at all mind having grit on my fingers.
There are two catches:
- I’m shit at keeping up with it. As an intensive one of the things I do is work in fits and starts. All enthusiasm for a week, and then forget for a month. I need a timer if there’s going to be watering, because I will not remember. I won’t weed unless I feel like it. This could mean that the garden is on its own for a long time. Some seasons I’ve dallied and fondled the plants a lot. It all depends
- The groundhog. The one who moved in halfway through my first season in this house, putting his secondary doorway right above my newly turned garden plot.
The solution to (1) is routine, love, not traveling much, and hardy plants.
The solution to (2), I’m told, is a .22, only I don’t have the heart. Or the gun. (The other solution is to surround the garden entirely, even underground, with fencing. Dig down a foot, lay a cattle panel, wire a fence to the cattle panel, and then make sure your fence is four feet tall.)
So for three years I’ve let the garden lie fallow. It was too disheartening to see my pea shoots nipped off at the base, basil chewed to the ground, squash half eaten and left to rot. In that time the raspberries have started to take over (if anyone knows what to do about them, please let me know) and only the little circle of herbs at the center of the plot has really persisted. There, the more fragile herbs died back this winter, unprotected by snow, but the chives are taking over and the lemon oregano is determinedly carrying on.
I want to replace the lavender, the sage, and the rosemary. I’d like to add dill and coriander. The groundhog seems to prefer lighter flavors.
But my real love is the idea that everything we tend, every bit of yard or garden, could be useful. The Washington Post recently ran this article on historic gardening which I devoured, but even better, imagine if nearly all the pretty things also healed, or tasted good, or…had some use.
As it turns out, the pretty, sustainable, yummy things also do not require fencing for protection from the wild.
In fact, my yard is already planted with some, which the groundhog completely ignores.
So in service of the can’t-we-all-just-get-along gardeners in our midst, I’m going to start a list of groundhog resistant plants, meaning that MY groundhog has not seen fit to eat them in four years.
- Hostas. Edible greens, young or old. Groundhog seems indifferent. So are the skunks, raccoons, and whoever else is visiting my bird feeder. Here’s the article: https://scottishforestgarden.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/hostas/
- Day lilies. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH REGULAR FLORIST EASTER-and-FUNERAL lilies, which will kill you. Day lilies offer flower buds, flowers, and tubers. Good for food, or the flowers are good as a thickener. Flowers can also be stuffed and/or battered. Article here: http://honest-food.net/2010/06/29/dining-on-daylilies/
- if you plant raspberries once they will take over your LIFE. You have been warned. I am trying to figure out how to kill some of them off, and I am not usually one to kill things.
I will update as I go.
Eating, a pleasure.
Growing your own food, magic.
Not having to go to the grocery store, priceless.
…every few months the obsession with draped clothing surfaces. This time it was because I was thinking that choli blouses just don’t make sense. In what universe do you take a super simple garment (six yards of unstitched fabric at the width of the loom) and make it complicated by adding a stitched skirt and skintight, highly-customized, highly-tailored blouse?
- Victorian England, although there’s some evidence that choli blouses predate the British occupation in some areas.
- a culture that loves high, rounded breasts as an ideal of a woman’s figure (yep, like the Greek statues, most Indian statuary was not representative but idealized) and discovers that you can get much closer if you put a fitted upper garment on the woman in question
- a culture where the original way to address the awkwardness of having breasts was a breast…tie? strip? Just a piece of cloth tied around the chest. Then when sewing becomes a thing, you make it fit better and stay on longer. Fair.
- a culture where the weather is cold. (Some of India, but definitely not all)
However, all these things assume you have some time and energy to devote to the project. None of the farmers I saw in India (ever) looked like they had spare time or energy. Like farmers here, and probably everywhere, if it’s growing season, they’re busy, and since there isn’t a real winter there, it’s almost always growing season.
One day, riding the train between cities in India in 2000, I looked out the window and my jaw dropped. In the middle of a country that I was experiencing as very concerned with modesty, there was an elder woman, maybe in her 50’s or 70’s (age works differently when you work outdoors all day) working in a rice field…with no choli blouse. Her pallu (the long tail end of a sari, usually more decorated, that sometimes hangs down the back of the person wearing the sari) was scrunched up on her shoulder and wrapped around her waist to tuck in front, one breast covered, the other not.
It started wheels spinning that are still turning.
What if, especially in the south, this business of blouses was relatively new? (Likely.)
As I continued to think about draped clothing (it’s been 16 years) and learn about saris, I discovered that there aren’t just a couple of variations, there are hundreds (that we know of, probably many are already lost) of ways to drape a sari. And some of them cover the chest with that same six or nine yards of fabric. It should be possible. Six is a lot of yards. I can make a dress with four or five. I can make a minidress with fewer. So with six yards, someone must have figured out the wrap-fold-pleat secret to not needing anything else. Imagine if, handed a beautiful length of fabric, you could just .put it on and leave the house.
That’s what saris do.
Except that whole blouse thing.
So today, with a little more energy and some curiousity, I went digging on the internet.
“How to wear a sari without a choli” I typed.
Some useful things and a lot of erotic photography turned up.
no no no, not how to be half-dressed while wearing a sari and no choli.
I tried a few more search strings, but somewhere in there this photo caught my eye:
As it turns out, it’s from a film in Malayalam due to be released in 2016 (I think) about a tribal village woman who fights to honor the balance with nature. Sounds awesome.
Also, check out that picture. And look at the drape.
She’s not rail-thin. She looks like she could get something done in her sari. And she is wearing, as far as I can tell, neither petticoat nor choli.
There are practical ways to wear saris. The current dominant way is one of the least practical. No wonder younger women are struggling to keep the sari alive.
The nivi drape, which you’ve seen everywhere, is not made for getting things done. Who leaves their pallu untucked? Someone who doesn’t need to lift a finger. Everyone else wraps it around their waist and tucks it in on the opposite side so they don’t come undressed. When you start to dig around in the history and complexity of sari drapes, one thing becomes immediately clear: women have been doing amazing things in saris for thousands of years, and almost none of them wore their saris like THAT.
Maharastrian women wear a nine-yard, bifurcated drape. The bottom of the sari looks like pants. Know why? BECAUSE THEY RODE HORSES INTO BATTLE. Badass. Practical. (That’s the drape I borrowed for my installation sari at my last church. Because badass and practical and proud of my Indian heritage were important to me.)
When I was in India in 2000, I watched women wearing this drape scramble up and down hand-tied bamboo scaffolding with pots of wet cement on their heads. It is SUPREMELY practical. Also, the pallu can be made into a pad for whatever you balance on your head.
The fishtail drape (the one you see on Bharatnatyam dancers) is another bifurcated drape, because if you want to tell a detailed story using only your body, you’d better be able to move your legs! Also, they’re gorgeous. Why reserve it for dancing?
The kache drape takes the same basic steps that you use for the nivi drape and turns THAT into pants. Because it’s easy, and practical, and if you need to pee it’s not too much work.
And the deeper I dig the more often I find overlap between dhotis (men’s draped pants, usually 5 yards) and saris.
And there are some kickass dhoti drapes.
When I order a new sari, it sits and waits for a long time, because I need to find a way to make a blouse for it. I live in Maine; we don’t have choli tailors on every corner.
But what if I could just put it on and go?
What drape can I go rock climbing in?
When women didn’t wear tops, what did their saris look like? Maybe I can just add a shirt.
There are potential problems here. With so many groups in India, is it appropriative for me to wear a drape not native to my region? How about if it is from a tribal or scheduled caste group? What about the fact that I live in the US?
On the other hand, I want these traditions to live. Chantal Boulanger was a French anthropologist who did tremendous work in preserving some of the drapes which were being lost as elder women died and the local drapes fell out of favor. If she had not learned to wear the saris and sought out the people who would show her the drapes, valuable history might have been lost. She collected her work in a book before she died in a freak accident in 2004. Now there is a school in New Delhi, run by an Indian woman, teaching other Indian women to drape saris, because it’s vulnerable. Women’s oral history is easily erased completely. There is also a stunning coffee table book written by Kalpana Shah, with instructions and color photographs. And then there is the #100sareepact from Twitter which started as a pledge between two friends in Bengaluru to wear saris more often, and Dare2Drape, which is encouraging not just traditional but modern drapes.
The only way to keep the tradition alive is to claim it. It has never gone away, but it gets pushed aside for clothes that are less eye-catching and to which we are better accustomed. But this is my tradition. And it’s going to be my rock-climbing, cat-petting, beach-walking tradition, so I’d better figure out how to make it my own.
I’ve got class, education, language, and cultural privilege here in North America. I plan to use it.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds often offer more interesting news than the newspaper ever did. Today, this article crossed my path, about sexual assault in the music industry:
Here’s my response.
So the problem isn’t just that this happened once, although even once is a major problem. The problem is that this is part of a continuum of inappropriate boundary violation, especially sexual and body-related boundary violation, that starts much closer to home. Even people I like, love, and respect, who like, love, and respect me (and I don’t doubt that they do–or did), have ignored my explicit and clear requests not to do something. Not just the absence of consent, but the explicit statement of nonconsent. They are good people. But somehow our culture teaches them that they will not get what they want if they ask for it–indeed that asking is somehow wrong.
I’m not making this up. Because these are people whom I like and love, I’ve had the conversation with them, more than once, about what happened. I’ve stayed in relationship, stayed in conversation, stayed at the table, because these aren’t strangers, these aren’t scary bosses and obnoxious people on the street (I’ve met them, too, but I have never found an effective way to engage. I’m scared, usually. That’s another post.) What they have somehow come to believe is that if they gently edge their way into the thing they really want, that that’s okay, because they’re going slowly, because they’re giving time for me to say no, because they know that the minute I DO say no, they’ll stop. They’re not Those Guys Over There who rape people. They stop, right? They stop when they hear no.
when they hear no
when they HEAR no. They stop.
gentle does not work. Subtle does not work. Sometimes you have to shout.
That is, sometimes you have to shout at your friend and lover who loves you to get them to stop.
Imagine how it feels when someone who is NOT your friend and lover starts bending the boundaries toward the quick of your spirit. If you shout at them they might stop.
Somehow our culture is teaching our kids, especially boys, that wanting is bad, asking is bad, and that it’s better to just “ask” by gently pushing until something gives.
Add a little power, take away some ethics, and not-so-suddenly, right there, is another step on the continuum. Nice guys breaching boundaries gently become bosses and supervisors breaching boundaries obliviously becomes sexual assault. It’s all of a piece, and it’s all interconnected and it all stacks on itself. So the tiny little comments eat away and eat away and eat away. They’re not microaggressions, they’re something else, but they’re aggressive. And they hurt. And they’re exhausting.
This is more than just a grope.
This is the tip of an iceberg.
Recently, I was waxing poetic about handsaws. Specifically, about my ryoba, a Japanese handsaw that suits my woodworking needs and style to a T.
Like most Japanese hand tools, it’s designed to make good use of your body weight.
It cuts on the pull stroke.
By contrast, most Western saws cut on the push stroke. That makes the work harder:
- A saw that cuts on the push stroke has to withstand a lot of force, so it has to be thick. A thick saw has to remove more wood as it goes, which is more work.
- A saw that cuts on the push stroke requires the user to generate that force, instead of allowing gravity and mass to do the work.
The ryoba allows a short, relatively small, relatively unmuscular person to make the best use of their available resources. The tension that comes from using the pull stroke allows the blade to remain stiff without being thick, so the kerf (the slit left by the saw) is narrower, and less wood is removed. You lean in the right direction, holding the saw in the right way, and the cut happens almost effortlessly. You don’t press the saw down, you simply hold it and allow it to do its work.
This is all true, but it is also a metaphor.
I’ve been “working on my money stuff” for quite a while. There was definitely stuff to work on. But over the years I’ve stripped away the veils and peeled the onion over and over again, looking for the place where the stuff would be resolved and I could move on in maintenance mode. Trouble was, I thought I got there a few years ago, but the expected transformations in the rest of my life weren’t forthcoming.
There are a few reasons for that. I kept digging and found most of them.
But tonight, having been told by my therapist that I really must begin making plans to go to India and not just wishing I could, I realized something else:
all this time I’ve been staring at the money itself, trying to deal with money for money’s sake.
I was pushing away at the saw on principle, because I needed to do it, but there was no larger thing. Wanting to be financially robust was all there was. And when it related to someone else, family or loved one, it had to do with fear of their judgment or repercussions, or fear of loss. My own sense of self was so tattered after a while that while I knew it would feel better to resolve these issues, I couldn’t really imagine it.
But I’ve also been watching my friend Natasha as she raises money to rebuild a village she loves in Nepal. She is there right now, overseeing the beginning of the building. When she decided that Nepal was an important thing, it reversed the direction of force. Instead of pushing from her studio in Brooklyn, she was pulled forward by the force of her dedication and vision of the project in Nepal. It brought her places and got her to do things that became easy because of her motivation, because of who she was working for and why.
She began to cut on the pull stroke.
I think this is critical. When we cut on the pull stroke, we are pulled forward into the next right thing by the natural forces surrounding us. Cutting on the pull stroke allows us to make the best use of the resources we have, rather than wishing we had what we don’t. Cutting on the pull stroke is where we go when we plug into our larger purpose, our deeper meaning, the work we are truly called to do in the world.
Or just something we really, really want.
Cut on the pull stroke, and everything’s easy.
Let nature draw you forward, and the seas part.
Let it begin.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways in which the liberal communities I’m attached to carry bias. Race, class, sure, but also other kinds of bias. This is about our bias against business and money. It was originally a Facebook post, but it got long and I think it needs to be more permanent. In working with a client recently, I was helping to reframe their approach to money, and it got my gears turning.
It’s amazing how much just listening to Wharton’s satellite radio for a couple of years in my car gave me access to a different way of thinking–about money, about corporate structure, about the role of these things in shaping the economy, about responsible structures in capitalism.
And understanding that stuff better, having access to voices and real humans talking about it (mostly Wharton professors, pretty good at explaining stuff) helps expand the repertoire of things I can random-access, which is how I synthesize my learning and make new ideas. It means that my eyes don’t glaze over when I look at a budget sheet; it means that when I want to think about an idea for my business, the spreadsheet helps me evaluate it.
BUT most important is that it breaks down the false barriers. Liberal social-change-oriented people tend to resist talking about or engaging with money or business structures. And it consistently shoots our momentum in the foot. We can’t afford to ignore a huge part of the available data because it…what, makes us uncomfortable? We can’t do it with race, we can’t do it with sex…AND we can’t do it with money. Or profit or business. It’s killing us, and putting us at a huge disadvantage relative to people with less liberal values.
We don’t need to take on the values that stereotypical corporations have in order to use the learning and information they have. But we do need to use every tool that’s out there. Including this one.
Listen to business radio. Get the Wharton channel if you can. (Wharton is a business school; they can’t help being educational. If NPR had a business channel, this is what it would sound like.) Read business and finance magazines. Read critically; look for bias; break down statistics. Don’t just assume it’s good interpretation. But learn how the system works. Then you can use it.